(11) Gonzaga Bulldogs (-1.5, 145.5 o/u) vs (6) Seton Hall Pirates
After winning their first Big East championship in 23 years, the Seton Hall Pirates (25-8, 23-9 ATS) will try to translate their recent success into a deep March Madness run. They’ll face an underrated Gonzaga Bulldogs (26-7, 14-15-2 ATS) as the first step on that journey tonight at the Pepsi Center in Denver (8:50 PM Eastern).
The Pirates Big East championship came in impressive fashion, as the Pirates took down the top two seeds, Xavier and Villanova, in the process. Their win over the Wildcats in the title game was their 12th over the last 14 games. They also own two wins over the Musketeers in that span. Both Villanova and Xavier earned no. 2 seeds in this year’s NCAA tournament.
Seton Hall’s recent surge has caught the collective eye of the Bulldogs.
“I watched the game [against Villanova] the other night,” senior Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer said to the Spokesman-Review. “Very talented, athletic team.”
Seton Hall aren’t just riding a solid straight-up win streak, either; they were one of the best teams in the nation against the spread all year long, posting a 23-9 ATS mark overall, including an impressive 12-2 ATS record as underdogs. Star guard Isaiah Whitehead (18.4 PPG) has been playing his best basketball of the season lately, and that’s saying something for an All Big East selection. Whitehead had 20-plus points in each of Seton Hall’s Big East tourney wins.
Gonzaga enters with its own share of momentum, winning five straight – including three in the WCC tournament – to secure their 18th straight trip to the dance. Past Zags teams have relied on strong guard play, but this version is much different. The strength of the Bulldogs lies in the frontcourt with Wiltjer (20.7 PPG) and Domantas Sabonis (17.4 PPG, 11.6 RPG), son of legendary Arvydas Sabonis.
The backcourt picked up its play late in the year, but is relatively inexperienced with redshirt freshman Josh Perkins running the point and sophomore Silas Melson playing significant minutes off the bench.
More was expected of Gonzaga this year, and that led to an underwhelming 14-15-2 ATS record (13-15 as favorites).
The Bulldogs have won seven straight first-round games, but are just 4-9 ATS in their last 13 NCAA Tournament games as a favorite. I’ll take the promising Pirates and their stronger guard play.
Pick: Seton Hall (-1.5).
(Photo credit: SD Dirk (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode].)